The “Outbox” Method is a Proven Way to Make Decluttering Less Stressful

published Jan 8, 2020
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Credit: Chloe Berk

The January Cure is a long-standing Apartment Therapy tradition, helping you clean and declutter your home for the year ahead. We tackle one assignment each weekday throughout the entire month. Sign up now if you want to join. (It’s free!)

The hardest part of decluttering is making choices about what should stay and what should go. That’s why your best weapon in The War Against Stuff is a simple little thing we like to call “the outbox.”

The outbox has been a staple of the January Cure for many, many years—mainly because it just works. It’s not a garbage or donation pile—it’s more like decluttering purgatory. A place for things to just sit (at least a week, or in the case of the Cure, until the end of the month) while you loosen your attachment to them. Once something has been in the outbox for a while, you’ll see the object for what it truly is: either a treasure to hang on to, or a relic to rid yourself of.

Today’s assignment is about setting up that outbox and setting yourself up for success.

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Credit: Sylvie Li

Today’s Assignment: Set up an outbox and put one thing in it.

Your outbox doesn’t need to be an actual box. It can be a bag (those big IKEA bags are clutch), an unused room, the space under a table, or just any designated nook or corner. Someplace a little out-of-the-way that you can allow to be messy for a little while. We’ll be using the outbox throughout the Cure as a holding place for things we’re considering letting go of.

Once you’ve got your outbox set up, I want you to add one thing to it. Look around your home and zero in on one item you’re thinking about letting go of—a trinket, a kitchen tool, a sweater, anything—then put it in the outbox with abandon. Don’t think about it too much, just… into the outbox. You’re not getting rid of the thing (yet, or maybe ever), so don’t hesitate to put the thing in the outbox if it crosses your mind.

Once you’ve got your item in your outbox, you’re done with the Cure today!

Throughout the Cure, as you declutter different areas of your space, you can put things you’re getting rid of, or just thinking about getting rid of, into the outbox.

Near the end of the Cure, I’ll be giving you an assignment to empty your outbox. But for now, just set it up and feel good about putting that first item in, knowing you’re on your way to letting go of things you don’t need.

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We’re just getting started! Here are a few ways to participate in the Cure:

The Cure doesn’t just happen in January. If you want to take your efforts to the next level, any time of year, pick up a copy of Apartment Therapy: The Eight-Step Home Cure book.